This year, Rabbit Awareness Week runs from the 2nd – 10th of June but, as ever, their advice ought to be followed all year round. For 2018, their chosen topic is diet; specifically, why we should abandon muesli and switch our rabbits over to a high quality, hay-based diet.
Up and down the UK, vets often cite that diet is the aspect of welfare that rabbit owners are most likely to get wrong. Studies undergone at the University of Edinburgh have found the main problem with muesli to be that it encourages selective feeding. This simply means that when eating, your rabbits are likely to eat the high-starch/sugar components of muesli, and to ignore the fibrous pellets. The subsequent fibre deficiency can lead to many harmful (and often fatal) conditions. These include:
- Dental Disease
- Reduced faecal output, which can result in gut stasis
- Uneaten caecotrophs (sticky droppings), which drastically increase the risk of Flystrike
A recent PDSA study revealed that the diet of approximately 25% of rabbis in the UK remain muesli-based, meaning 280,000 of our rabbits could be killed by what they’re eating!
So what’s the alternative?
Hay, hay and more hay.
We see too many cartoon rabbits munching on carrots and sugary treats but remember: wild rabbits do not have access to such luxuries, and they do just fine!
High-quality grass or hay should make up at least 85% of your rabbits’ diet. Grass is packed with fibre and will keep their digestive systems in full swing. The constant act of grazing helps to keep their teeth from growing, minimising the risk of Dental Disease; it also allows them to adopt the behaviour of a wild rabbit – a wild rabbit spends about 70% of its time foraging and if your domestic rabbits are doing this, they’re far less likely to get bored.
We recommend the Excel Feeding Plan
This consists of five food types and has been approved by veterinary experts as the very best diet for domestic rabbits. It looks a little something like this:
- Hay/Grass – This should be free of dust and available in such a quantity that your rabbits can eat it throughout the day. The stock should be replaced daily so they’re always eating fresh food. Note: Hand-pulled grass and dandelion leaves are fine, but DO NOT feed lawnmower clippings: they can ferment, plus anything could be mixed up in there!
- Nuggets – Feed as a supplement to hay to ensure your rabbits are getting the correct minerals. You can buy different types depending on your rabbits’ life stage and you should never exceed the recommended portion size.
- Nature Snacks – Again, feed this in small amounts. Do so by hand to encourage bonding or failing that, make an activity out of it – mixing it up with hay can be helpful as it encourages foraging.
- Fresh Greens – See these as a treat. They offer nutritional value but often have too high a sugar content to be fed regularly. Remember: several greens are poisonous to rabbits and should be kept well away from them. For more help, click here.
- Fresh Water – As with hay, this should be available at all times and should be clean.
Don’t eliminate muesli right away. The transition should take place over a 4-week period. Do not increase the overall portion size, simply subtract a fraction of muesli and replace it with nuggets. Aim to reduce it by a quarter in week 1, half by week 2, so on and so forth.
If you’d like to get involved with Rabbit Awareness Week or to read more about the best diet for your rabbits (along with the other crucial aspects of keeping them healthy), visit the RAW website.
If you’d like to speak to someone or have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us right away.
Here’s to happy rabbits everywhere, and to knocking that last 25% down to zero!